When Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention organizer and cultural historian, Martin Grams, invited me to this year’s convention that was held September 15-17, 2022 in Hunt Valley, MD, he told me: “I guess the highlight of this year’s event is the fact that we will be back to a sense of normalcy. As you know, no one was able to host a convention or film festival in 2020, and few were able to pull it off in the latter half of 2021. People looking for something to do to get out of the house this year may want to consider something different from the usual trips to theme parks, reptile shows, and campgrounds. Who doesn’t want to have their photo taken with Hollywood celebrities to brag to their friends on social media, or their annual Christmas card?”
“…the annual Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention…a must for fans of American, mid-twentieth-century popular culture.”
This annual event intrigued Mark Beachy, founder and publisher emeritus of MD Theater Guide, who visited the convention: “The artist/vendor that is my number one recommendation is ‘The Ornament Guy.’ Mike Riehl is the amazing artist behind original, hand-painted, Christmas bulb-style ornaments. What makes these ornaments unique is that they feature your favorite characters from cartoons, TV, movies, horror, and sci-fi. He also does custom orders by request. One year, I bought several movie monster-themed ornaments and created a Halloween-themed, Christmas tree. The tree featured hand-painted ornaments of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Friends called it ‘spooktacular!’ For over 25 years, Mike Riehl from Allentown, PA, has been hand-painting ornaments with a steady hand and a wildly creative imagination. Because the artistry of the ornaments is so colorful, detailed, and original, ‘The Ornament Guy’ is my choice as the number one artist/vendor to visit at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention.”
One of the fun things I hold dear about the Nostalgia Convention is meeting celebrities on hand from famous television shows of the past. Last year I met Kathy Garver, who played Cissy on TV’s ‘Family Affair.’ In one skit at last year’s convention, she did a wonderful impression of an earlier TV star, Gracie Allen, in a classic ‘Burns and Allen’ routine. When I asked Mr. Beachy which famous stars of yesteryear he met, he told me of meeting two:
“This year, I met Melissa Gilbert who starred as Laura Ingalls from TV’s ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ I welcomed her to Baltimore and asked if she had the chance to eat a crab cake. She said, ‘Oh, yes! I had crab cakes the first night I was here in Baltimore!’ I then had the chance to pose for a photo with this iconic celebrity! For those too young to remember, ‘Little House on the Prairie’ was an American Western historical drama which premiered in 1974 on NBC and lasted for nine seasons, ending in 1983. Interestingly, 26 years after the TV show ended, Melissa Gilbert played Caroline “Ma” Ingalls in the musical adaptation of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ in 2008 through 2009.”
Mr. Beachy also tells us of meeting an actor from a popular 1970s sitcom:
“I had the opportunity to meet Jimmie Walker who starred as James Evans Jr. (‘J.J.’) from TV’s ‘Good Times.’ He was just as energetic and full of ‘Dyn-O-Mite’ (his TV catchphrase) as when the TV series first aired on CBS from 1974 to 1979. I told him that I loved the lively and memorable role he created. He modestly turned his head, smiled, and said, ‘Oh, stop! Thank you!’ It felt good to put a smile on his face after he had put a smile on my face and made me laugh for so many years. You may have recently seen Jimmie Walker on TV commercials for Medicare. He looks so young; it is hard to believe he is 75 years old!”
The Nostalgia Convention also features seminars on comic and pulp characters such as Popeye, Doc Savage, Captain Midnight, and Tarzan of the Apes. Entertainment is provided by the screening of vintage television shows such as “Ellery Queen” and “The Green Hornet” and vintage films too numerous to mention.
Recreations of radio dramas are a unique feature of the Nostalgia Convention. Last year, an “X Minus One” story was staged called “The Lifeboat Mutiny.” It was a fun play combining science fiction and comedy, which was performed by volunteer conventioneers who were chosen after auditions.
Mr. Beachy reports that for one of these reenactments: “The Gotham Radio Players dusted off the radio scripts of yesteryear and gave it their all as they passionately brought the iconic characters back to life.” The characters in this instance were Sergeants Joe Friday and Ben Romero from a police radio drama series, “Dragnet” which was a mainstay of television in the 50s and 60s. The episode was “The Big Cop,” when Friday and Romero discover a corrupt policeman has been colluding with a mob of burglars. “Dragnet” has had some controversy in recent years for presenting a completely sanitized view of the Los Angeles Police Department. This episode would seem to belie this criticism, for Sergeant Friday states at the conclusion:
“There are at least two criminals for whom a police department will spend any amount of effort to apprehend. One is the armed thug who shoots down a police officer. Obviously, the man is dangerous because if he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot an armed officer, he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot an unarmed citizen. The second type is the police officer who betrays his trust as a public servant to work hand-in-hand with the criminal. He is equally dangerous because of the harm and the disgrace and the contempt for law he can inflict while hiding behind his uniform. It’s not hard to see why many a policeman considers an officer-turned-thief no better than a killer.”
What makes this recreation special is that this is a lost episode of the show and a recording of this series entry no longer exists. The only way to hear this lost treasure is to come to the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention and witness enthusiastic volunteer actors and sound effects experts stage it again.
Meeting celebrities, buying unique collector’s items, reliving favorite film entertainment with fellow nostalgia aficionados, and enjoying live stage and radio performances makes a trip to the annual Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention a must for fans of American, mid-twentieth-century popular culture.
Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention was held from September 15-17, 2022 at the Hunt Valley Delta Marriott, 245 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, Maryland 21031. For photos of other celebrities who attended this year’s convention and more information, click here. Next year’s dates are September 7-9, 2023.